Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bob Kerrey, the agnostic?

Bob Kerrey receiving the Medal of Honor

Here's an interesting article at the New York Times which describes Bob Kerrey as an agnostic. I live in Nebraska, but I didn't know that. I didn't realize he felt so strongly about the separation of church and state, either:
Bob Kerrey’s political career spanned four years as the governor of Nebraska and another 12 as a United States senator from that state, during which he made a serious bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. In all that time, to the best of his memory, he never uttered what has become a routine postscript to political remarks: “God bless America.” ...

“I think you have to be very, very careful about keeping religion and politics separate,” Kerrey said.

We Americans aren’t careful at all. In a country that supposedly draws a line between church and state, we allow the former to intrude flagrantly on the latter. Religious faith shapes policy debates. It fuels claims of American exceptionalism.

And it suffuses arenas in which its place should be carefully measured. A recent example of this prompted my conversation with Kerrey. Last week, a fourth-year cadet at West Point packed his bags and left, less than six months shy of graduation, in protest of what he portrayed as a bullying, discriminatory religiousness at the military academy, which receives public funding.

Obviously, you don't have to be an atheist or agnostic to support the separation of church and state. In fact, it was the concerns of Baptists which prompted Thomas Jefferson's famous letter. Freedom of religion, with the strict separation of church and state, is one of those things which greatly benefits believer and non-believer alike.

But as I say, I didn't know that Bob Kerrey is an agnostic, and I wonder if it's one of those things I complained about previously, where Democratic politicians in Nebraska won't stand up for what's right, because otherwise they think they'll lose elections by an even bigger margin than they do now.
Kerrey labels himself agnostic, but said that an active politician could get away with that only if he or she didn’t “engage in a conversation about the danger of religion” or advertise any spiritual qualms and questions.

“If you talk openly about your doubts,” he said, “you can get in trouble.”

To me that doesn’t sound like religious freedom at all.

No. And I've got to point out that this wasn't published until after he lost the recent election, so I really wonder if an active politician could "get away with that" - at least, here in Nebraska.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think a politician needs to talk about his religious beliefs at all unless he plans to use his office to support those beliefs. I don't care if Kerrey is an agnostic or not, and I wouldn't care if he hid that (or didn't go out of his way to acknowledge it, at least). That's not relevant in a political campaign.

However, I do want my politicians to stand up for the U.S Constitution, and support for the separation of church and state is relevant. But that wasn't an issue in this campaign. Indeed, I must admit that, as right-wing as Nebraska tends to be, we don't seem to have the church/state issues of so many Bible Belt states.

So put me down as just finding this interesting, no more than that.

Note that I've barely mentioned the rest of this column, since it's the connection with Nebraska that caught my eye. But it's worth reading. Here's an excerpt:
Every year around this time, many conservatives rail against the “war on Christmas,” using a few dismantled nativities to suggest that America muffles worship.

Hardly. We have God on our dollars, God in our pledge of allegiance, God in our Congress. Last year, the House took the time to vote, 396 to 9, in favor of a resolution affirming “In God We Trust” as our national motto. How utterly needless, unless I missed some insurrectionist initiative to have that motto changed to “Buck Up, Beelzebub” or “Surrender Dorothy.”

We have God in our public schools, a few of which cling to creationism, and we have major presidential candidates — Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum — who use God in general and Christianity in particular as cornerstones of their campaigns. God’s initial absence from the Democratic Party platform last summer stirred more outrage among Americans than the slaughter in Syria will ever provoke.

God’s wishes are cited in efforts to deny abortions to raped women and civil marriages to same-sex couples. In our country God doesn’t merely have a place at the table. He or She is the host of the prayer-heavy dinner party.


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